What the Heck Bird is This? « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

What the Heck Bird is This?


We were rained out on Sunday afternoon so we enjoyed a Photoshop session during which everyone picked their favorite Red Knot image from Sunday morning and optimized it. I was available for questions, guidance, and comments. The expected Northwest winds on Monday morning made photography very difficult but everyone persevered and came up with a few keepers. We tried a new spot, Heustis Beach (named after my friend/assistant Noel Heustis who discovered it). We had many chances with both Laughing Gull and Royal Tern but with wind against sun make a really good image was quite difficult. Our best situations were with some Ruddy Turnstones feeding along a seaweed-covered wall.

As always, lunch at the Neptune Grill was superb. During our long, post-lunch Photoshop session I entertained lots of questions dealing with cropping options and NIK Color EFEX Pro.

I have pretty much decided to have my inguinal hernia surgically repaired on May 3, the Thursday after the Gatorland IPT.

The Streak

Today makes two hundred sixty-one days in a row with a new educational blog post! This one took less than an hour to prepare including the time spent on the image optimization. With all of my upcoming free time (or not…), the plan right now is to try to break the current record streak of 480 … Good health and good internet connections and my continuing insanity willing.

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Selling your used (or like-new) photo gear through the BAA Blog is a great idea. We charge only a 5% commission. One of the more popular used gear for sale sites charged a minimum of 20%. Plus assorted fees! Yikes. They went out of business. And e-Bay fees are now up to 13%. The minimum item price here is $500 (or less for a $25 fee). If you are interested please scroll down here or shoot us an e-mail with the words Items for Sale Info Request cut and pasted into the Subject line :). Stuff that is priced fairly — I offer pricing advice to those who agree to the terms — usually sells in no time flat. Over the past year, we have sold many dozens of items. Do know that prices on some items like the EOS-1D Mark IV, the old Canon 100-400, the old 500mm, the EOS-7D and 7D Mark II and the original 400mm DO lens have been dropping steadily. You can always see the current listings by clicking on the Used Photo Gear tab on the orange-yellow menu bar near the top of each blog post page.

Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM Lens

Muhammad Arif is offering a used Canon 300mm f/4L IS USM lens in near-mint condition for $719. The sale includes the front and rear lens caps, the tough fabric lens case, the tripod collar, the original product box with the CDs, a LensCoat but for the two rear sections, and insured ground shipping by major courier to US addresses only is also included. Your item will not ship until your check clears unless other arrangements are made.

Please contact Muhammad via e-mail.

I owned and used this great lens for several years. It is a great flight lens and I always loved its close focusing abilities that made it great for flowers, frogs, and dragonflies. I firmly believe that it is a far better bird photography starter lens than my beloved old “toy lens,” the 400mm f/5.6L lens. Why? It is image stabilized and it does great with all AF points with a 1.4X TC. Grab this one while you can as the price is right. artie


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Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of folks whom I see in the field, and on BPN, are–out of ignorance–using the wrong gear especially when it comes to tripods and more especially, tripod heads… Please know that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail. Those questions might deal with systems, camera bodies, accessories, and/or lens choices and decisions.

This image was created on the 2018 Fort DeSoto IPT on April 16, 2018. I used the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens and the Nikon D850. ISO 400. Matrix metering-1/3 stop: 1/2500 sec at f/7.1 in Manual mode. AUTO1 WB at 9:28am in cloudy conditions.

Center Group (grp)/Shutter button AF was active at the moment of exposure. The array was on the bird’s neck, right on the same plane as the bird’s eye.

Focus peaking AF Fine-tune: +6.

Image #1: Heron/egret hybrid

What the Heck Bird is This?

This is the strange bird that I photographed last year at Fort DeSoto; you can see photos of it as a hatch year bird here. I had thought then that it was a Great Egret X Reddish Egret hybrid. But after seeing it in breeding (alternate) plumage) this year, it seems almost obvious that it is a Great Blue Heron X Reddish Egret hybrid. Or not. Its amazing, sky blue/ultramarine lores scream “breeding plumage Great Blue Heron.”

The bird is much larger than any Snowy Egret, and much smaller and slimmer than any Great Blue Heron. It is likely smaller than a Great Egret (though we did not see it in direct comparison this year). It does not exhibit the drunken sailor feeding style that characterizes Reddish Egret. If you have any thoughts as to what it is, please do share. One thing that I do know is that it was a thrill to see it again this year as it is both unique and beautiful.

This image was created on the 2018 Fort DeSoto IPT on April 16, 2018. I used the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens and the Nikon D850. ISO 400. Matrix metering-1/3 stop: 1/2500 sec at f/7.1 in Manual mode. AUTO1 WB at 9:28am in cloudy conditions.

Center Group (grp)/Shutter button AF was active at the moment of exposure. The array was centered toward the rear of the bird’s rear chin, right on the same plane as the its eye.

Focus peaking AF Fine-tune: +6.

Image #2: Heron/egret hybrid/head portrait

Which First?

Knowing me and my style, which of today’s featured images did I create first?

Your Favorite?

Which of today’s two featured images do you like best? Please leave a comment and let us know why you made your choice. I will share my clear favorite with you in a future blog post.

IPT Stuff

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Tame birds in breeding plumage and heron and egret chicks are great fun.

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23 comments to What the Heck Bird is This?

  • avatar Don M.

    Hi Artie,

    I don’t have a chance to observe the birds you are describing but I have not stopped digging to get an answer.

    I understand your comment that it could not possibly be a Little Blue Heron. From a size perspective, it is too small to be a Great Blue Heron and more like the size of a Reddish Egret.

    I also believe you mentioned it does not exhibit the drunken sailor feeding style of the Reddish Egret. I found a research paper “Plumage Dimorphism in the Reddish Egret: Does Plumage Coloration Influence Foraging Habitat Use and Tactics?” that assessed feeding style differences between white and dark morph Reddish Egrets. The study’s findings suggest that the white morph is more likely to stand and wait, while the darker morph is more likely to walk and run. This might explain what you are seeing.

    On the subject of the dark bill, I reviewed portions of Advanced Birding by The National Audubon Society. Although the bill of the Reddish Egret is characterized by an abrupt line separating the pink and black, this may not be present in immatures and some winter adults where the bill may be be entirely dark.

    On the question of feather colour, I explored the possibility of a Reddish Egret intermediate morph. I recently observed large numbers of Snow Geese and there were clearly intermediates between the light and dark morphs. On the site for neotropical birds from Cornell, I reviewed the Reddish Egret and they advise that there are occasionally pied or intermediate birds.

    So, for what it’s worth and hopefully more helpful than my previous suggestion, it might be an intermediate morph of a Reddish Egret in winter plumage.

    Best wishes,

    Don M.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Don,

      Lots of good research but your conclusion does not make a lot of sense to me as it does not take into account the ultramarine lores that match Great Blue Heron (actually they match the color of white morph GBH perfectly.

      Interesting stuff about white morph REEGs being more likely to stand and wait but I can assure you that the white morph REEGs do the drunken sailor dance.

      with love, artie

      ps: a single feather from the bird for DNA testing would be the only way to get to a definitive answer. But speculating is fun.

  • Adding: The thing, I think, that confuses people and keeps them throwing great egret in the mix is that the reddish egret half of the equation is white morph. So it’s GBHE x REEG (white morph).
    Surely the coolest bird I’ve seen in a long time. Keep on batting away at those ID possibilities!

  • Hey Artie! Great to catch up with your doin’s. I started blogging by doing it 7 days a week. Now, I’m lucky to get one post up weekly. But hey. It’s a 13 year streak. Here’s to you!
    Now here’s something cool. I remembered looking at your mystery egron some months ago. I didn’t remember the specifics, however. I looked at today’s photo with those gorgeous blue lores. I looked at the overall structure of the bird, its shape, the wing feathering and distribution of aigrettes. And what jumped out at me was great blue heron x reddish egret. I was pleased to scroll down and see you came to the same conclusion. Now to read the comments. I like identifying mystery birds in a vacuum, then looking at others’ conclusions afterward. Yes, his name must be Artie!! xojz

  • avatar Noel Heustis

    Just so everyone knows…I named that bird Artie long ago! I think he comes to that name now! Beautiful rare bird for sure.

  • Hey Arthur, I would say you created the clean graphic head portrait first. Then the whole bird second. My favorite is image #1 really like the full view of this unique bird. Have fun out there.

  • avatar Matt S.

    I propose that this is a Morriset Heron

  • Artie, To piggyback on Eve T’s leucistic comment, we have and I’ve photographed a leucistic female Northern Cardinal (white headed only) a couple weeks ago in our yard (S.W. MI). Most of the examples of this pigment defect cover smaller portions of the animal but there are many cases where the entire bird’s feathers are affected. Keep us posted (know you will)

  • avatar Tilo Samter BTHS '53

    Good grief- a Purpleish?

  • avatar Ron May

    Good luck with the hernia Op. Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

  • avatar Bill Goodhew

    Good move on fixing the hernia. All you would need is one not-thinking heavy lift to be the beginning of the longest day of your life.

  • Hey Artie, your mystery bird is a hybrid Great Egret x Great Blue Heron. I have seen reports identifying it as such. Quite interesting, maybe a trip down to find it is in the making. Thank you for sharing.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      I have seen those reports and been in contact with Cornell. As the bird is smaller than a Great Egret and the plumage is reminiscent of Reddish Egret I am not convinced. The only way to tell for sure would be to grab a feather (or some blood) and do a DNA test. Here is another possibility: a similar bid was seen 5 years ago. As the bird seen last year was a juvenile it is possible that this is the offspring of a hybrid with genes from all three species.

      As always, I do not recommend believing everything that you read on the internet.

      with love, artie

  • avatar Derek Courtney

    Art, I believe the consensus is that this a Great Blue Heron x Great Egret and has been seen at Fort De Soto for at least a couple of years.

  • Any chance this is a leucistic GBH? I ask only because we have a leucistic hawk up our way I have not seen yet, and it is very pale. My stepdaughter has a leucistic blackbird coming to her feeder and it is splotchy. So I have leucistic birds on the brain. I agree, beautiful! I like the full bird image only because it shows all the detail and I am curious!

  • avatar Don M.

    Good morning Artie,

    I think this might be a juvenile Little Blue Heron. Both images complement each other and highlight different aspects of the bird. In one, it’s the transition of the plumage colour from white to dark as the bird matures. In the other, it’s the blue and black of the bill and surrounding head area. I’m guessing you started with the full bird image followed by tighter crops.

    Although both are impressive, I prefer the full bird image. It gives more context and is a stronger composition. I like the dark bill-legs-beach objects relationship. It suggests a triangle and keeps my eyes on the image as they move back and forth to the different points of the triangle. Another triangle is suggested by the lighter neck, upper legs and tail feathers. With the tighter crop, I focus on the eye, and then follow the bill out of the image.


    Don M.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      There is no way in the world that this is a juvenile Little Blue Heron or any age Little Blue Heron. It is much, much too large and the shape and plumage is all wrong 🙂

      with love, artie

  • Would guess the distant is first and the closer and lower with sky background second. Both are great but I like the closer better as it really draws your attention to the beautiful lores and the matching background.

  • Hi

    Hernia op. , should it be in May and not April 3 as indicated in the above note.